Mongolia- we didn’t come for the food!

Mongolian food has no nuance, no subtlety, no balance of flavours.  The flavours are salt, sugar and fat. The meat (and there is always meat) comes in slabs or ground. The potatoes come in bulk, and the greens are a nominal, and soggy optional afterthought. There’s a strong emphasis on filling you up; food as fuel, rather than as a creative expression, an art form or an opportunity to experiment with many and varied flavours and textures.

The average Mongolian, we’ve observed, is what you might call portly. The upside is that westerners can buy jocks that fit! The padding is essential in winter, when it get down to -45. Although there’s a lot of soft drink being drunk everywhere too. I wonder how many people have type 2 diabetes here? And bad tooth decay?

What nice things can I say about Mongolian food?  Well, we have a number of times in the last 5 years all eaten according to the FAILSAFE diet. That is, food free of additives, low in salicylates, amines and flavour enhancers.  The Mongolian diet is the most failsafe we’ve encountered. For example, this soup is mostly meat, potatoes and broth, with a skerik of carrot, and salt but no pepper.

Our breakfast today was salty rice pudding, the kids milked the cows yesterday and this was made with the milk they brought back. This is completely failsafe.


I think almost everything we’ve eaten could be made with the following few ingredients.

  • rice
  • flour
  • potatoes
  • garlic
  • oil
  • onion
  • salt
  • milk
  • mutton
  • capsicum
  • cabbage
  • carrot
  • and the occasional cucumber


Ummm, that’s it. Its a far cry from the myriad spices I always have on hand at home, and enough ingredients to whip up something Middle Eastern, something Thai or something Italian, all without a trip to the shop.

I like variety.  I have experienced the kind of hunger that gnaws at your stomach and refuses to let you think about anything else for a second.  I have felt hunger for filling up. I have felt hunger for calories, and now I think I’m feeling hunger for variety.


The other positive of the Mongolian diet is that it is so high in carbs. I love my carbs, I think I ate 6 weetbix every breakfast my whole childhood, and another 4 after school.  So, heaps of bread, rice, potatoes and pasta is carby-comforting food.  Just don’t come here if you’re diabetic!

So much for the positives.

Ultimately the Mongolian diet doesn’t appeal at all. Nothing has any flavour, and every mouthful has gross grissly bits. Stuff is served warmish, and the fat solidifies on your teeth. Hot tea is to warm you up, and to dissolve the fat stuck in your mouth. Yuck. When we get back to China, we’ll be going to our favourite sichuan place and ordering something spicy, and a plateful of steamed broccoli!

In the meantime, as I’m sitting around eating the unpalatable, I telling myself this is an opportunity to identify with most of the people in the world who have neither variety nor quantity, and to be grateful.

But, we didn’t come here for the food.

And in the words of another well-travelled Australian, Mick Dundee, ‘you can eat it, but it tastes like sh*t!!’


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9 Responses to Mongolia- we didn’t come for the food!

  1. Dave September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    You have made me hungry now…….might have a trip to KFC or Maccas. Then again my wife might cook some Indonesian spicy food. Keep the storys coming guys… reading about your travels

  2. Hannah September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    I desperately want to take a trip like this, but worry that as a vegetarian I will struggle enormously with the food. Do you think it’s possible to do something similar to your Mongolian adventure, and not eat meat? I would hate to offend people and appear difficult or ungrateful – perhaps I would simply need to return to my carnivore days for the duration of my stay?!
    Hannah recently posted..A very big announcementMy Profile

    • Jill September 19, 2012 at 9:09 am #

      Hi Hannah, it won’t be easy!!
      There are a couple vegetarian restaurants in Ulaanbaatar, but in the country you might end up living on rice pudding, fried bread, fried potatoes etc. We met a young vegetatarian who had been admitted to hospital twice for weakness, she’d been working hard days on a ranch and just eating bread and rice. It was probably the lack of nutritious vegetables, as well as the overall lack of calories.
      Dont let it put you off! just take a multi-vit and be prepared to politely taste, at least a bite or two!

      • Hannah September 20, 2012 at 6:44 am #

        Thanks Jill. I certainly won’t be deterred – in fact a diet of rice pudding, fried bread and fried potatoes sounds pretty darn good to me!
        Hannah recently posted..A very big announcementMy Profile

  3. Aunty deb September 19, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Hi Guys. I will never complain again! Love A Deb

  4. Lisa Wood September 19, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    I wouldnt know what to eat cause we dont eat red meat, only chicken once a week and fish once a week!!
    So glad that you can escape and try variety food in another country. Bummer about Mongolia food…but like you said, at least you will be grateful when you do have different food to eat!!
    Lisa Wood recently posted..Fifty Shades of CookingMy Profile

  5. tereza crump September 20, 2012 at 4:51 am #

    I feel your pain. I have been to places were their food was tasteless. I have been to restaurants here in American that all you could taste was salt. And then again, some desserts are all sugar. And some burgers are some pink slime!!!

    Like you I need my herbs and dry seasoning to make my food fragrant and tasty. Nothing like fresh green vegetables to make any meal taste yummy. I am off wheat and drinking green smoothies everyday. So I know live food when I see it. i don’t think the Mongolian food is it!!
    tereza crump recently posted..Learning Log of August 2012My Profile

  6. oggie September 22, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    I was reading the book Omnivore dilemma by Michael Pollan, maybe you should, too.

  7. Angela September 25, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Hi Jill, I have just discovered your blog through a friend and have spent the last few days enjoying your archive of entries. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your family’s adventures. Inspiring, joyful, wonderful. You’ve given me a renewed enthusiasm for really living life.

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